The Portage Lake Smelter Tour- The Michigan Smelter, Pt.2

Today we conclude our tour of the Portage Lake smelters with the last days of the Michigan Smelter.

 In 1911 Copper Range bought the Atlantic Mine’s share of the Michigan Smelter stock, beginning a move towards total ownership of the smelter. Like Quincy’s smelter, the Michigan Smelter experienced a wave of production highs and lows brought about by the strike of 1913 and World War One. However, as the Quincy Smelter declined through the 1920s, the Michigan Smelter actually expanded its operations. Although 1926 saw much lower tonnages of mineral smelted, by 1927 an increased output from the Mohawk mines and a new contract with the Isle Royale mines meant that business once again picked up. While Quincy shuttered its smelter and ultimately its mines as the Depression deepened, in 1932 Copper Range moved to gain complete control of the Michigan Smelting Company, renaming it the Copper Range Company Smelting Department in 1933. Although production dropped off with the closure of the Mohawk Mine in that same year, work continued at the smelter using stockpiled copper rock. Despite the downturn in both input from the mines and the demand for refined copper, in 1936 a new 2,000 pound Lectromelt furnace was added to the smelter, and production totals for 1938 were highest in several years thanks to increased work in the Champion and Isle Royale mines.

 As the Depression continued, Copper Range increasingly used the Michigan Smelter for contract work with several other mines. Perhaps the most notable of these smelting contracts was formed with the Quincy Mining Company, whose own smelter had been closed in 1931. In 1940 Quincy, along with Isle Royale, supplied most of the mineral treated at the Michigan Smelter. To keep Quincy’s business, special discount rates were offered to prevent the company from using Calumet and Hecla’s smelters in Lake Linden, and in 1943 Quincy began sending the products of its Torch Lake reclamation efforts to the Michigan Smelter. However, with the closure of nearly all of the Lake Superior mines in the autumn of 1945, the Michigan Smelter ceased operations. Work resumed nearly a year later in December of 1946, after the Lake Copper Refining Company contracted with Copper Range for smelting work. This arrangement lasted only a year, as the smelter stopped treating newly mined or reclaimed mineral in November 1947. Smelting continued using stockpiled mineral until March 1, 1948, when the Michigan Smelter ceased operations permanently. Beginning in 1952 Copper Range moved to liquidate all of the physical assets of the Michigan Smelter, selling off machinery and demolishing all of the smelter structures (except the office building) within two years.

Today, there are few remains of the Michigan Smelter visible on the landscape. A few massive concrete bridge piers mark the location of the Copper Range Railroad spur which delivered mineral to the smelter, and other foundations remain scattered around the site. The office building, now privately owned, is the only structure associated with the smelter that is still standing.

Copper Range rock cars on the tracks to the Michigan Smelter. Note the slag dump at left.
Copper Range rock cars on the tracks to the Michigan Smelter. Note the slag dump at left.
Another view of the Michigan Smelter.
Another view of the Michigan Smelter.

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March 2010


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